Lee’s Last Major General: Bryan Grimes of North Carolina, by T. Harrell Allen, Savas Publishing Co., Mason City, Iowa, $24.95.
The outbreak of the Civil War saw tens of thousands in both the North and the South answering the call to “rally ’round the flag.” On both sides, many prominent men were among the first to volunteer their services. One such individual from North Carolina was a successful farmer named Bryan Grimes.
While Grimes often received recognition and admiration in official reports and correspondence among his peers, his rise through the ranks could hardly be described as meteoric. Perhaps this helps explain why Grimes has gone largely unnoticed by all but the most well-read Civil War enthusiasts. In Lee’s Last Major General: Bryan Grimes of North Carolina, T. Harrell Allen sets out to correct the oversight.
Grimes performed well during the Seven Days’ battles and was given command of a regiment. On September 5, 1862, he suffered a severe leg injury when he was kicked by a horse. Despite riding into Maryland in an ambulance, he commanded the 4th North Carolina during the Battle of South Mountain on September 14, but missed the bloodbath of Antietam.
Grimes continued to gain notice for his abilities, but it would not be until May 1864 that he finally received a general’s star when he was given command of Brig. Gen. Junius Daniel’s brigade after Daniel was killed at Spotsylvania. Then, when his for-mer brigade commander and close friend Stephen Dodson Ramseur was mortally wounded at Cedar Creek in October 1864, Grimes assumed command of Ramseur’s division. On February 15, 1865, the assignment was confirmed as permanent and the 36-year-old Tarheel was promoted to the rank of major general–the last man in the Army of Northern Virginia to be promoted to that grade.
Grimes returned home and resumed his life as a gentleman farmer, working diligently to regain the prosperity he had enjoyed before the war. His life ended tragically on August 14, 1880, when he was murdered while returning from a business trip.
Drawing on a wealth of primary source materials, including a large collection of the Grimes family letters and papers housed at the University of North Carolina, Allen creates a portrait of a man who was not unlike many of similar class and standing in the antebellum South. Allen traces the relationship between Grimes and his beloved second wife, Charlotte Emily, most of whose letters to Grimes were regrettably destroyed at her request, since she was afraid that they might fall into Yankee hands. The obvious love between the two, still evident in their words more than 100 years later, does much to humanize a largely inhuman war.
While there is not much here in the way of new information on the various commands with which Grimes was associated, Allen has done a good job of describing the battles and Grimes’ participation. The book is, after all, a biography, and Allen never loses sight of this fact or strays very far from the main subject.
B. Keith Toney